Systems Leadership in practice

I was kindly invited by Debbie Sorkin to attend an event on Systems Leadership last week. It was held at the University of West of England’s business school, and was part peer support, part theory and part sharing findings on how Systems Leadership works in practice.

I’ve highlighted before why I’m so taken with what Systems Leadership seeks to do – see here and here – and it was great to hear directly from people who have been explicitly putting this approach into practice through the Local Vision programme.

The Local Vision programme is run by the Leadership Programme and supports 25 areas with Systems Leadership at the moment. An interim evaluation (pdf) of how this has been working so far is now available, and there’s lots of good stuff in there to look at and consider. I’m particularly taken with the importance of the Enabler role – a person who:

  • Builds a safe space, relationships and trust
  • Surfaces hidden themes and patterns
  • Fosters recognition and ownership of what needs to change
  • Creates shared purpose and collective connection
  • Explores and fosters recognition of the nature of systems leadership
  • Brokers/acts as independent arbiter; encouraging reflection and learning.

As if to highlight this is a way of working that deserves more attention, the King’s Fund also last week published a fascinating report about the practice of Systems Leadership and “being comfortable with chaos”.

One final point: it was rightly noted at the UWE event that Systems Leadership isn’t the only answer. I agree wholeheartedly with this: we cannot and should not dogmatically take a Systems Leadership approach to every problem we face, if not for the sole reason that not every problem will be suited to such an approach.

Empowerment in the US Navy!

USS Santa Fe

You can’t implement a bottom-up concept in a top-down way.

Empowerment is just some wishy-washy claptrap that managers use to carry on exerting their own power, isn’t it?

Well, yes, it is – if folks don’t really understand empowerment. But folks who get empowerment know and feel a different version.

I’ve most often read about this different version in public services like health and social care. So reading this take on empowerment in, erm, the US Navy was exhilarating!

There’s lot in there to think and reflect on, but here are a couple of choice snippets:

Saying we need an empowerment program is like saying we need a swimming program. The implication is that swimming isn’t a natural occurring behavior for our people. So, what we are saying when we say we need an empowerment program is that the fundamental way we run our organization is dis-empowering.

and

If it takes the boss to empower them, the boss can unempower them, and that’s not very powerful.

If it can work in the US Navy, e.g.

The highest performing teams in the military perform in highly decentralized, and empowered ways.

… then I’m pretty sure it can work in health and social care (and public service management more generally).

Right now, is left wrong and right right?

Matthew Taylor on the left:

The nature of power is shifting yet social democratic organisations continue too often to exemplify a model of hierarchical bureaucracy, tending to see power as a zero-sum quantity won or lost internally in factional battles and externally in elections.

But power is dynamic, fluid and positive sum (the same team of people can be powerless or powerful depending on how they work together). It can be generated – in whatever circumstances – through creativity, collaboration, integrity and generosity. The phrase  ‘in’ or ‘out of power’ may refer to control of the Government but it also speaks to a more fundamental problem with how the leadership cadre of social democratic parties think about change.

David Brooks on the right:

The most surprising event of this political era is what hasn’t happened. The world has not turned left. Given the financial crisis, widening inequality, the unpopularity of the right’s stances on social issues and immigration, you would have thought that progressive parties would be cruising from win to win.

But, instead, right-leaning parties are doing well [because]… they have loudly (and sometimes offensively) championed national identity[,] they have been basically sensible on fiscal policy… [and their] leaders did not overread their mandate.

Pace of change in the US

Here is a terrific visualisation of the pace of change in the US on issues such as interracial marriage, prohibition, abortion and same-sex marriage. Pace of social change in US If this is your sort of thing then you’ll definitely be interested in Chris Hatton’s post on the conditions for change in public policy, plus a collection of links I’ve brought together on change across systems and within organisations.

Even in 2015, disabled people still disproportionately excluded from the internet

Source: Office for National Statistics
Source: Office for National Statistics (pdf)

Here at arbitrary constant we have previously been interested in internet usage statistics, particularly when it comes to disabled people. In June 2012 we reflected that half of all people who have never used the internet are disabled people. Where are we now?

The latest ONS internet usage statistics are out, and things look like they’ve only moderately moved in a positive direction for disabled people.

Overall, the number of people using the internet continues to increase: 85% of all adults had used the internet in the last three months (to March 2015), an increase of 1% since last quarter.

Some 11% of adults (5.9m people) have never used the internet (to March 2015). This is a reduction of 6% since March 2011, which remains encouraging.

Of these 5.9 million adults who had never used the internet, 3.0 million were aged 75 years and over. This represents 33% of people aged over 75. Similarly, 3.3 million disabled adults had never used the internet, which represents 27% of disabled adults.

In June 2012, 34% of people over 75 and 34% of disabled adults hadn’t used the internet. Thus, there has been a 4% and 7% increase in the number of people over 75 and disabled people using the internet respectively. Nevertheless, it remains the case that over half of all the people who have never used the internet are disabled people.

This is made clear in graph at the top of this post, which shows the proportion of non-internet users depending on whether they’re a disabled person or not over the last two years. Thus, whilst things are moving in the right direction, and consistently with, say, people aged over 75, disabled people are still disproportionately failing to reap the benefits of the internet, even in 2015.

Art and the “genuine merit of life as we’re forced to lead it”

"A Bigger Splash" by David Hockney
“A Bigger Splash” by David Hockney

A lovely, brief essay from Alain de Botton for Tate Etc. on how art can be presented to connect more with our everyday lives, and not be concerned only with a piece’s heritage.

Without necessarily meaning to, museums send out subtle cues about what the ‘right’ thing to do inside them is. This set of norms is chiefly communicated by the captions which accompany objects and which throw the emphasis on a particular set of concerns: the name of the artist, the school to which they belonged, the influences upon them, the material of which the art object is made and their place within the museum’s internal cataloguing system. In other words, the captions invite their readers to take their first steps in adopting some of the concerns of the curatorial and academic establishments that, behind the scenes, look after and interpret works in museums.

I am interested in re-framing works of art so as to draw attention to their therapeutic aspects.

I enjoyed de Botton’s take on the role of arts in our everyday lives:

No less than music or literature, the visual arts have a role to play in keeping us more or less sane and in restoring us to a measure of serenity in an often frenetic and disappointing world… It lies in the power of art to honour the elusive but real value of ordinary life. It can teach us to be more just towards ourselves as we endeavour to make the best of our circumstances: a job we do not always love, the imperfections of middle-age, our frustrated ambitions and our attempts to stay loyal to irritable but loved spouses. Art can do the opposite of glamourising the unattainable; it can reawaken us to the genuine merit of life as we’re forced to lead it.

Housing First: homes for homeless people

Image: -macjsp on flickr
Image: -macjasp on flickr

Via a slightly breathless article in the Washington Post, I came across a great approach to homelessness: Housing First:

A model so simple children could grasp it, so cost-effective fiscal hawks loved it, so socially progressive liberals praised it… Give homes for the homeless

There’s a terrific briefing from Shelter on what Housing First is (pdf); it’s key components are as follows:

  • Immediate (or relatively immediate), permanent accommodation is provided to service users directly from the streets, without the requirement of assessed housing readiness
  • No preconditions of treatment access or engagement are made (housing first, not treatment first)
  • Comprehensive support services are offered and brought to the service user
  • A harm-reduction approach is taken to dependency issues and abstinence is not required. However, the support agency must be prepared to support residents’ commitments to recovery
  • Support can ‘float away’ or return as needs arise and the housing is maintained even if the resident leaves the programme, for example through imprisonment or hospital admission.

In the US, a four-year study found that the Housing First approach led to 88% housing retention rate, compared to a 47% retention rate for treatment first models. A shorter UK study of nine housing services (pdf) has found a range of excellent outcomes, too, including housing retention, improved mental and physical health, some reductions in drug and alcohol use, some positive evidence of social integration, and some reductions in anti-social behaviour.

It’s interesting to me the parallels between the housing first model (get people a house, then support them) and the Individual Placement & Support employment model for people with mental health problems (get people a job, then support them).

This is intriguing stuff, and I’ll be keeping a lookout for more on this.